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College Basketball's Top Coaching Hires for the 2018-19 Season

Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh

Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh

In many ways, coaches are the true stars of college basketball. Players come and go, but coaches give programs their identity. Here are some high-profile new hires for the 2018-19 college basketball season. 

Top 3 Hires

Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh
No high-major program was in greater need of a jolt of new energy than Pitt, which stumbled through an unprecedented 0–18 record in ACC play last season. Enter Capel, a former head coach at VCU and Oklahoma and most recently the top lieutenant at Duke. Capel’s tenure ended badly at Oklahoma — the Sooners went 14–18 in 2010-11 and one of Capel’s assistants committed a pair of NCAA violations — but he won 30 games and guided the Sooners to the Elite Eight in 2008-09 and also went 79–41 during his four seasons at VCU. He is regarded as an elite recruiter who played a pivotal role in Duke’s back-to-back-to-back No. 1-ranked classes. 

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Dan Hurley, UConn

Hurley methodically built Rhode Island into the top program in the A-10 during his six seasons in Kingston. After a rough start — 22–39 overall and 8–24 in the league — in his first two years, Hurley averaged 23 wins over his final four seasons and guided the Rams to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances. In 2017-18, URI won its first-ever outright A-10 title after recording a 15–3 mark in league play. Hurley began his head-coaching career at Wagner, where he went 38–23 overall and 24–12 in the Northeast Conference in two seasons. A New Jersey native and former guard at Seton Hall, Hurley has spent his entire basketball life in the Northeast and appears to be an ideal fit at UConn.

Chris Mack, Louisville
Mack’s resume at Xavier is extremely impressive: 215 wins (at a .689 clip) in nine seasons with eight trips to the NCAA Tournament (including three to the Sweet 16 and one to the Elite Eight). Since making the move from the A-10 to the Big East in 2013-14, the Musketeers are 57–33 in league games, highlighted by an outright title this past season. Few coaches nationally were as firmly entrenched at their school as Mack, a Xavier alum, so this is quite the coup for Louisville. The Cardinals should remain relevant in the ACC — and on the national scene — for years to come with Mack in charge. 

3 Under-the-Radar Hires

Dana Ford, Missouri State
Don’t be fooled by Ford’s mediocre record (57–65 overall, 31–35 in the OVC) during his four seasons at Tennessee State, a school that devotes very few resources to its basketball program. After going 5–26 in 2014-15 (as a 30-year-old first-time head coach), Ford orchestrated the largest turnaround in the nation the next season, guiding the Tigers to a 20–11 mark. Ford, who will still be only 34 years old when the 2018-19 season begins, is highly respected in the industry.

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Niko Medved, Colorado State
Medved did a nice job rebuilding at Furman, leading the Paladins to a total of 42 wins in his final two seasons — the best two-year stretch at the school since the late 1970s. Furman went 25–11 in the SoCon in those final two seasons after averaging 3.7 league wins the previous three years. In 2017-18, his only season at Drake, Medved guided the Bulldogs to a 17–17 record (the school’s first non-losing season since 2011-12) and a 10–8 mark in the Missouri Valley (first winning league record since 2007-08). 

Richie Riley, South Alabama 
Riley did quick work at Nicholls, leading the Colonels to a 15–3 league record and a share of the Southland Conference title in his second year on campus. Nicholls’ 21 wins overall in 2017-18 were the second most in school history, and the team’s final KenPom ranking of 185 snapped a four-year streak of rankings in the 300s. A Kentucky native who played at Eastern Kentucky, the 35-year-old Riley coached under Brad Brownell at Clemson before taking the top job at Nicholls in 2016. 

3 Homecoming Hires

Joe Dooley, East Carolina
Dooley is a longtime Bill Self assistant who went on to enjoy great success as the boss at Florida Gulf Coast. But in a previous life, Dooley was the head coach at East Carolina, where he went 57–52 overall and 30–36 in the CAA from 1995-99. He now returns to Greenville to find an ECU program that has struggled to find its way in the AAC. The Pirates are 20–52 in league play over the last four seasons and have had only two winning seasons since Dooley’s departure. 

Lorenzo Romar, Pepperdine
Romar, like Dooley, is returning to a job he held in the late 1990s. Unlike Dooley, Romar enjoyed some success in his first go-round, winning 36 games in his final two seasons before becoming the head coach at Saint Louis. Romar went 42–44 in three years in Malibu, 51–44 in three years at Saint Louis and 298–196 in 15 seasons at Washington. Last year, he was the top assistant to Sean Miller at Arizona. 

Tubby Smith, High Point
The seventh — and presumably final — stop in Smith’s coaching career takes him back to his alma mater, where he was an all-conference guard for the Panthers in the early 1970s and is a member of the school’s athletics Hall of Fame. Smith has won 597 games in 27 seasons as a head coach, highlighted by the 1998 national championship in his first year at Kentucky. Smith guided teams to the NCAA Tournament 16 times in his first 19 seasons as a head coach but has been to the NCAAs only twice in the past eight years (2013 with Minnesota, 2016 with Texas Tech). 

Intriguing First-Timers

Penny Hardaway, Memphis
With the possible exception of Jeff Capel at Pittsburgh, no coach has changed the momentum of a program this past offseason as much as Hardaway. A Memphis native who starred for the school in the early 1990s, Hardaway was hired to re-energize a fan base that had grown apathetic in recent years. Mission accomplished. Now he must prove he can get the job done on the court in his first coaching opportunity beyond the high school ranks. 

Penny Hardaway, Memphis Coach

Ashley Howard, La Salle
Howard is a Philadelphia native who played at Drexel and has coached at three of the city’s six Division I schools (La Salle, Drexel and Villanova). He spent the past five seasons at Villanova, where he played a key role in the Wildcats’ two national titles. Howard inherits a La Salle program that has been to the NCAA Tournament only one time since 1992. 

Walter McCarty, Evansville
McCarty has paid his dues as an assistant coach in both the collegiate ranks (2007-10 at Louisville) and the NBA (2010-18 with Indiana and Boston). Now, the former Kentucky star and 11-year NBA veteran returns to his hometown to take over an Evansville program that has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1999. Marty Simmons, the previous coach, won a total of 49 games in 2014-15 and ’15-16 but was fired after suffering back-to-back losing seasons in MVC play.